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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

A Good American documentary review: 9/11 didn’t have to happen

A Good American green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Shocking, essential documentary looks at the shameful and avoidable failure of the NSA to prevent 9/11. All Americans (and everyone else) should see this film.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): really fucking tired of all this shit
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Because there’s always room for more outrage, herewith A Good American, an absolutely infuriating documentarytweet about how 9/11 could have been stopped by intelligence software the National Security Agency had in its hands but didn’t use because of “corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse” within the agency, as a lawsuit brought by its inventor alleges.

I’m pretty good at following this sort of stuff and yet I’d never heard of NSA analyst Bill Binney or his program, ThinThread, before I saw this film. Why the hell did it take an Austrian documentarian, Friedrich Moser, to bring this story to light? There are shocking revelations here that everyone — in America and far beyond — needs to hear.

The unforgivable thing about ThinThread? It was too cheap!

A whistleblower before Edward Snowden — Oliver Stone has called this movie a prequel to his Snowden, in fact, and he’s not wrong — Binney worked for the NSA for decades trying to wring useful info out of encrypted intercepted data before he figured out how to use what we today call metadata to make spot-on security assessments. Just by looking at who was talking to whom, for how long and in what patterns, without ever needing to have access to the content of those communications, he predicted the Russian invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the Six Days Wars, and other major military events. (As one of his insider colleagues explains, Binney was “the agency’s best traffic analyst, bar none.”) When that sort of data went digital in the 1990s and the NSA was sucking up more information than it could possibly analyze via its traditional — ie, non-Binney — methods, Binney developed software that could find the pertinent informational needles in data haystacks… and all without compromising the privacy of innocent citizens.

So what happened? A Good American makes it perfectly plain that ThinThread — which, as Binney says, “absolutely would have prevented 9/11”tweet — was backshelved because it did not fit into NSA “protocols” (my term) that were far more about enriching crony contractors than about national security. (The unforgivable thing about ThinThread? It was too cheap! It did not require any lucrative outsourcing contracts to former agency employees turned consultants, or big bequests from Congress.) If you’ve seen The Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing’s efforts to build a codebreaking computer during World War II, here’s an analogy for you: Imagine if the generals who wanted to shut down his project because it was taking too long actually did so, and he never broke the Enigma code. Except this is worse, because Binney’s equivalent of Turing’s machine was already working.

A representation of the interconnections between phones all over the planet. You’re in there somewhere.

A representation of the interconnections between phones all over the planet. You’re in there somewhere.tweet

Let me be perfectly clear about this: A Good American is a devastating indictment of the United States’ National Security Agency as an utter disgrace not fit for purpose.tweet It was not a mistake, not incompetence that caused it to miss all the pre-event evidence that pointed to a devastating attack occurring on September 11, 2001. They had an analytical computer program — it ran on a desktop PC! — that would have uncovered the plot; the agency knew it worked, and they shut it down before 9/11 for no good reason. Binney changed the intelligence paradigm, and the NSA threw him and his work out. So that they could line their pockets; “9/11 is a gift,” one NSA honcho supposedly said; Congress would give them all the funding they asked for. And, it is implied, so that Americans could be kept fearful. It wouldn’t do to have all the terrorist attacks stopped before they can do any damage and incite terror, would it?

It sounds like a conspiracy theory. It would appear to be conspiracy fact.tweet

If you’re angry about the state of the world in recent days, you need to back it way the hell up: bad shit that is not in our interest as ordinary citizens has been going on since long since before Donald Trump took office. #Resist.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2016’s other theatrical releases.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

green light 4.5 stars

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A Good American (2016) | directed by Friedrich Moser
US/Can release: Feb 03 2017
UK/Ire release: Sep 23 2016

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (images of real dead bodies)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RicoSuave

    The Phoenix Memo written by an FBI field agent weeks before 9/11detailing suspicious behavior by a group of Middle Eastern men learning to fly planes was shelved due to concerns of racial profiling. The intelligence world before 9/11 was not as it is now. In 1998 6 months before the US embassy bombings in Africa , the US State department was warned of an impending attack, by the US ambassador and the US intelligence agencies. It was ignored by Madeleine Albright. There is a long list of failures on the road to 9/11.

  • Jurgan

    Define “racial profiling.” I’m sure the FBI gets tons of reports of Middle Eastern men who look “suspicious.” Obviously this one was legitimate, but it’s hard to pick that out from the cases where some racist is just afraid of all brown people.

  • RicoSuave

    In the summer of 2001, it wasn’t considered something that could have been acted on . Hindsight is 20-20. IN August 2001, the actor James Woods was on a a flight from Boston to LA. He noticed a group of Middle Eastern men who acted strangely on the flight. They seemed to be observing things, without sleeping, It was enough to worry Woods, who reported it to the flight staff who didn’t pay much heed. Woods was later interviewed by the FBI after 9/11. The hijackers had been making rehearsal runs across the country on various flights.

    How many US hijackings have been made by non Middle Easterners in the US.

  • Jurgan

    “The past 20 years” is not really relevant when you’re talking about something that happened fifteen years ago. Looking through wikipedia suggests the majority of hijackings prior to 9/11 were people from Latin America or communist countries in the Soviet sphere, as well as some from east Asia. So, at the time, there was no association between Middle Eastern people and hijacking. And even now, that’s not a good way to investigate. You’ll get tons of false positives from people who are paranoid about all Middle Eastern people.

  • RicoSuave

    Using planes as weapons of mass destruction was first contemplated in 1994 when the Armed Islamic Group hijacked a French airliner with the intention of blowing it up over the Eiffel tower. That mission failed, partly because the hijackers didn’t know how to fly the plane. No other non Islamic terror group had considered the use of planes as weapons till then. And there was the Bojinka plot in 1995:

    “The Bojinka plot was a large-scale, three-phase attack planned by Islamists Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for January 1995. They planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II, blow up 11 airliners in flight from Asia to the United States[1] with the goal of killing approximately 4,000 passengers and shut down air travel around the world, and crash a plane into the headquarters of the CIA in Fairfax County, Virginia.”


    The idea to use planes as the they were used on 9/11 was exclusively an Islamic terror plot.

  • BarrysConspiracyWorld

    This is essentially more disinformation. NSA failure allowed it to happen? It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it was an inside job. Muslim hijackers had nothing to do with it. If this is not clear, read my post “How We Know 9/11 was an Inside Job.”

    For those that don’t know, the massive chatter about a terror event was put out by our own intelligence agencies as part of the cover up. Bosses were alerted, who then gave orders to ignore the “warning.”

    They keep cranking out this disinformation to support the absurd official story. It’s time everybody wake up.

  • This is completely off topic with regards to this movie. ThinThread still would have prevented 9/11, and it had nothing to do with anything that could be construed as racial profiling, as far as I can determine from this film.

  • How many domestic hijackings have been made by non Middle Easterners in the US in the past 20 years?

    And how many domestic hijackings in the US in the 20 years before 9/11 were pulled off by Middle Easterners?


  • You’re moving the goalposts. You just mentioned hijackings in the US, and now you’ve expanded it to include the rest of the planet.

  • It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it was an inside job.

    No, it hasn’t. Take your conspiracy crap elsewhere.

  • RicoSuave

    That incident by France has been indicated to be the inspiration for Bin Laden in some reports.

  • RicoSuave

    That’s the point I was was making , that there were none and definitely none where planes were used as weapons. So any intelligence reports indicating such a plot were not given the serious investigation that they would be given today.

  • RicoSuave

    I brought up the Phoenix Memo where an FBI field agent brought up “actionable intelligence” from an actual ongoing situation. The movie talks about an analyst’s findings. They are both of relevance in fighting terrorism. The Phoenix Memo had actual names and places.

  • RogerBW

    I’d really want to know the false positive rate. It’s very easy to predict major events if you predict lots and lots of things, and then don’t talk afterwards about the predictions that didn’t come true.

  • You cannot exclude the rest of the planet

    Dude, *you* excluded the rest of the planet when you asked:

    How many domestic hijackings have been made by non Middle Easterners in the US in the past 20 years ?

  • Now you’re just contradicting yourself.

    And anyway, guess what? ThinThread was about *meta data,* not about details of a plot. It was about seeing that bad guys were talking to other bad guys, not what they were talking about. The point you’re trying to make here is irrelevant to what this film is about.

  • Just see the movie if you want to talk about it on this level.

  • Good point. This guy’s work was highly valued, though, for many decades, until suddenly it wasn’t.

  • RicoSuave

    Having worked in the area , I can tell you this… there are a LOT of “meta data” reports generated. But that is just one part of a complex matrix of threat intelligence gathering and simulation. No real world situation can be solely predicted by data analytics. The last election showed that.

  • RicoSuave

    Can you tell me how that excluded the rest of the planet ? The question posed indicated that domestic hijackings are not a usual occurrence in the US by domestic terror groups.

  • RicoSuave

    I will check it out for sure. I have an interest in this area. But as,I said before, there was already operational information on the table about an impending terror threat. All the FBI had to do was act on the Phoenix memo. That was real. The Thin thread data analysis was something of less immediate significance at a time when field agents had already identified threats. Note that in 1998, the State Deot did not react to multiple warnings about Bin Laden attacking US African Embassies. Even the US ambassador in Kenya Candace Bushnell warned the State Dept. Ultimately there can be any number of reports and analytics. It is another matter if the intelligence is acted on.

  • BarrysConspiracyWorld

    Do you feel good about propagating the cover up? Helping those who murdered innocent Americans. WTC7 a perfect symmetrical implosion. Game over. Silverstein admitted with was a controlled demolition, game over. FBI planted a burned jet engine on the scene. Photos of them doing it. Oops! It was from the wrong type of airplane!

    No plane at the Pentagram
    No plane in Shanksville.
    7 “Hijackers” seen alive the next day, some interviewed on BBC
    The list goes on and on, yet the brainwashing is so thick that it’s impossible to see the obvious for many.

    WTC1,2 didn not “collapse”. They were blown to bit – into fine dust. They crumbled as they came down.

    No steel structure building in history has collapsed from fire. Office fires 500F, Jet Fuel type A used in America burns at 980F. Steel used in WTC was UL certified to retain its strength for several hours at 2000F !!

    BBC announced the collapse of WTC 7 20 minutes before it happened.

    I could go on listing 1000 relevant items about the military operation (Only day in history the appropriate general was not in command of Norad, Dick Cheney took over), and the cover up.

    9/11 is the tip of the iceberg. Almost every single Muslim “terror” event since has been a government operation.

    Why do you think the US has been busy destroying 7 Muslim countries in the middle east?

    The media and people like you are guilty of war crimes. 1-2 million inocent Muslims MURDERED on the basis of a big lie.

    The media should be brought to justice.

  • I am done arguing semantics with you.

  • Dent

    But Alex Jones told him that Bush planned it all!

  • A Good American…. shown Nov 12 Sunday @4pm at NYC Symphony Space…. https://www.symphonyspace.org/event/9933/Film/a-good-american-a-talk-with-william-binney includes talk, and Q&A LIVE with Wm. Binney, Diane Roark, and Ray McGovern…. very hot… get tix

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